by Mark Gauvreau Judge
vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 24-33
Increasing numbers of UFO
abductees, as well as the experts who treat them, say
their experiences have as much to do with
inner as outer space.
Mark Gauvreau Judge,
an award-winning journalist, is a contributing writer
for the New York Press. His numerous articles on the
arts and popular culture have appeared in the Washington
Post, the Weekly Standard, Salon, First Things, and
other journals. His first book, Wasted: Tales of a Gen-X
Drunk, was published in 1997. He is also the author of
Damn Senators: My Grandfather and the Story of
Washington's Only World Series Win, and If It Ain't Got
that Swing: The Rebirth of Grown-Up Culture. He lives in
The first time Catherine was hypnotized,
she wept. She remembered the night several weeks before when they
had come for her again and had taken her from her car.
She remembered their small, hairless
bodies and penetrating, almond-shaped eyes. She recalled the inside
of their ship, the size of an airplane hangar, and the rows and rows
of beds on either side, half of them filled with people. She
remembered being undressed, and the taller one who was in charge.
The one who stared into her eyes to calm her down.
The one who cut into her.
“He took this long needle and put it
up inside me," she says. “I could feel it cutting. It took him a
long time to cut, and it was not a pleasant thing. And when he
took it out there was a fetus on it. And I was getting this
sense, this feeling of pride from him, like 'Oh, this is a good
thing; you should be proud.'”
Catherine, a bright 25-year-old college
student, smiles nervously.
It's been two years since the
experience, but she is still hesitant and embarrassed describing it.
Still, she claims to be the picture of cool compared to the day she
had he first hypnotic regression, when the memories began to emerge.
“I could not believe the intensity
of what I was feeling. I was sobbing like I haven't since I was
a kid, sobbing, sobbing, almost hysterical. Even if I could
dismiss everything else as being a fantasy or some kind of
delusion or some kind of confabulation, I can't dismiss how
intensely I felt, the absolute terror. You have an experience
like that, and it shatters your base of reality.”
Catherine is an alleged UFO abductee.
She believes that alien creatures have
kidnapped her countless times since she was a child, taken her
aboard a flying saucer, and sexually abused her for breeding
purposes. Her story is not unique. Recent estimates have put the
number of people who claim to have had an abduction experience from
the hundreds of thousands to nearly 3 million.
Listening to abductees and the experts
who are trying to make sense of their accounts, it becomes clear
that the depth and scope of the phenomenon is far more complex than
science fiction stereotypes of little green space invaders.
UFO abductions, once largely considered
the province of cranks and comic books, have become a mystery that
touches on, among other things, sex, psychology, religion, and the
presumptions of the Western mind.
“The only theory that makes any
sense is that what's happening is exactly what the people say is
happening to them,” says John Mack, the psychiatrist who treats
Catherine. “Namely, some kind of entity, some intelligence, is
coming into our world, taking people, and doing things [to
A rising star in the abduction field,
Mack comes with the kind of credentials skeptics have always claimed
were sorely absent in Ufology, the study of UFOs.
Tenured professor of psychiatry at
Harvard Medical School, Mack is a respected psychiatrist and
Pulitzer Prize-winning author. He has conducted hypnotic regressions
on over 100 abductees and holds a monthly support group for between
15 and 20 people like Catherine.
He insists that the abduction experience
is too complicated to be pigeonholed, but he is convinced that the
experience is, at the very least, based in objective reality and
tells chilling anecdotes to prove it.
“A woman comes into one of my
support group meetings after waking up in the morning with dried
blood on her socks. This is a very conscientious, reliable
person. Under hypnosis, she goes into detail about an abduction
experience: She's on the table, a fetus is removed, she bleeds,
and blood goes on the floor of the UFO where she is. She's
returned to her room, and the next day notices dried blood on
her feet. I've got hundreds of this kind of correlated physical
Mack's involvement with abductees began
in 1989, when Czech psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, whom he had met two
years earlier at the Esalen Institute, gave him a paper on UFOs by
writer Keith Thompson.
Mack hadn't thought about UFOs since the
1960s, when he had asked his friend
Carl Sagan about them.
to Mack, Sagan “gave it the back of his hand," and Mack had abruptly
dropped it. But Thompson's piece rekindled his interest. A colleague
then offered to introduce Mack to Budd Hopkins, a New York City
artist who works with abductees and is the author of two books on
the subject, Missing Time and Intruders.
Mack was impressed with Hopkins's
sincerity and knowledge, and also by the consistency of the detail
in stories Hopkins was hearing from people who had never met each
Mack began seeing abductees - or “experiencers,” a term many of his
patients prefer - in his therapy practice the next year. While fear
of ridicule keeps many abductees away from family doctors and
mainstream health professionals, the shock and anxiety that arise
when memories surface forces them to seek help, and Mack's growing
reputation as a sympathetic ear leads many abductees to his door.
Initially, Mack screens them for
psychiatric disturbances, such as depression and psychosis, then
uses a session to explore the sources of the patients' fear and
their reasons for seeking treatment.
If he suspects they are abductees, Mack uses hypnosis and the Grof
breath-work technique to help access the repressed memories. Because
the unorthodox nature of an abduction often prevents experiencers
from receiving support from family and friends, who often have
trouble understanding the experience, Mack encourages experiencers
to join his support group and a self-help group comprised of other
Most of the abduction stories Mack hears from his patients are
similar to Catherine's. In a typical scenario, the victim is taken
from his or her environment - in most cases, from bed while asleep
or shortly after spotting a UFO - by small, humanoid creatures who
are able to pass through walls and windows.
The person is then taken aboard a
spaceship - usually a saucer with bright lights - where he or she is
disrobed and subjected to medical procedures, including sperm
removal from males and pregnancy testing on females. Often the
abductee is shown images of global destruction; many describe an
enormous room containing rows of incubators that hold fetuses that
resemble hybrids of humans and aliens.
After the abduction the victim is
returned to the site of the abduction with virtually no recall of
the incident and sometimes bearing small scars. The aliens-or
visitors, as some abductees call them-often force them to forget the
abduction episode or plant bogus “screen memories” to replace the
traumatic events. Later hypnosis or another incident - seeing aliens
portrayed on television, for example - may trigger memories.
Sarah, a 36-year-old mother of two who has seen Mack for almost
three years and is a member of his support group, explains that
memories of her own abductions were released by an episode of
“Unsolved Mysteries” that claimed that as many as 95 percent of
people who see UFOs have abduction episodes.
“That's when it just hit me,” she
says. “I sat on the couch and I cried for about a half an hour.
All of a sudden, all those weird things that had been happening
in my life... just came together. Everything from ghosts in the
house - we've had more haunted houses than any family I know - to
strange dreams to UFO dreams that were very detailed. Everything
just came together in that moment.”
Like several of Mack's other abductees,
Sarah has been given psychological tests for anxiety and depression,
including a general symptom inventory and a
The tester concluded that she is,
“a high functioning woman” with “no
evidence whatsoever of thought disorder” but noted that “her
test responses are consistent with those of a relatively healthy
individual in the denial phase of post-traumatic recovery.”
Sarah is well aware of the strangeness
of her experience.
In fact, most experiencers who are
referred to Mack through friends or UFO groups are otherwise normal
people who are confused, terrified, and bewildered at what's been
happening to them. Many even hope Mack will confirm their suspicions
that they're crazy. The alternative-that the creatures who have been
snatching them from their beds, cars, and backyards are real-is
almost too much to bear.
You start with the innocent act of believing that folks aren't lying
or hallucinating... But where do you go from there? Step in any
direction, and the landscape starts to melt.
The first impulse most people have about abductees is to think they
are in some way disturbed, even humorously so. The stereotype of
someone boasting that they've ridden in a flying saucer is mired in
the science fiction imagery of the 1950s, when hoaxers claiming
contact with Martians were common and their stories of trips to the
moon more comical than harrowing.
Even Mack, who says he had an upbringing
as a “supreme rationalist,” dismissed abductees as “delusional” when
stories began to emerge more than 20 years ago. But after
researching abduction accounts and having face-to-face interactions
with abductees, Mack was struck by the low incidence of mental
illness among experiencers, impressed by the physical effects left
after an abduction, and fascinated by the detailed abduction
reports, many by children as young as two years old.
Indeed, after talking to just a few experiencers for any length of
time, believing that they may be seeing and experiencing something
becomes the easy part. After that, the mind struggles with possible
explanations, many of them convoluted and confusing.
As journalist Erik Davis put it in a
recent essay on UFOs in the Village Voice Literary Supplement:
“You start with the innocent act of
just believing that folks aren't lying or hallucinating... But
where do you go from from there? Step in any direction, and the
landscape starts to melt.”
One who has wandered onto the landscape
is Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of
Ring is the author of
The Omega Project: UFOs,
Near-Death Experiences, and Mind at Large, a book based on his
research comparing over 200 people who have had near-death
experiences (NDEs) and UFO encounters.
Ring has several theories on UFOs and
abductions; one of the most controversial is based on the high
incidence of child abuse Ring claims is reported by people who
experience both NDEs and UFO encounters.
“The persons who are
disproportionately likely to report abduction experiences and
other kinds of unusual encounters are those persons who have
experienced some degree of trauma in their life,” Ring says.
“People with this kind of background
are more likely to learn as children to dissociate. Therefore,
when they experience trauma in later life... they're more
likely to go into a dissociative state, which in turn would make
them more susceptible to what I call alternative realities.”
Ring emphasizes that his data doesn't
refute the reality of the state of consciousness abductees enter.
Rather, he views the alternate reality where the alien encounter
takes place as real as the world we normally inhabit.
He compares experiencers to televisions
capable of picking up certain signals others tune out.
“I think that childhood abuse hones
one's ability to move between altered states,” concurs June
Steiner, a California hypnotherapist who treats abductees and is
familiar with Ring's work.
“This skill of being able to move
between states helps them to see the phenomenon. I don't know if
there are words to scientifically describe it, but I believe a
lot of these things can be seen only when we see through our
conditioning that says that something does or doesn't exist.”
To Philip Klass, a chief UFO skeptic,
the stories Steiner, Ring, Mack, and their patients tell are pure
bunk-and dangerous bunk at that. Klass has been investigating UFOs for
over 25 years, and is the author of UFO Abductions: A Dangerous
His position can be summed up in that book's preface:
“The public has been hoodwinked and
Klass feels that when UFO researchers
and therapists like Mack pronounce alien abductions as the cause of
an experiencer's anguish without exhausting other possible
explanations, it causes abductees to become paranoid. Because
abduction can take place at any time, says Klass, having a person in
a position of authority unconditionally back a claim makes “fear
become part of [an abductee's] life.”
Klass attributes the climbing number of abduction accounts to one of
“It could either mean that we have
alien visitors - which I personally doubt, but if we do, they
love publicity and are abducting a lot more people as a result
of it - or it could mean that a small percentage of the
population is suggestible and, having read about these things,
having found how easy it is to tell a story, more people are
Klass, however, believes that UFOs may
represent something that's been around for centuries.
He cites the work of British ufologist
Hilary Evans, who has written of the abduction phenomenon's
roots in folklore and mythology.
“In Europe a couple of centuries
ago,” Klass says, “a number of women claimed that they were
abducted by the devil from their bedrooms and they went dancing
with him. If they had had television in those days, I'm sure
many more would [have reported these experiences]. Is it
possible that those abductions were not with the devil, but with
extraterrestrials? Or does each century, each generation, have
its own version of essentially the same basic myth?”
Klass's theory of UFOs and abductions as
symbols that may reflect the myths of every age ironically echoes
the ideas of Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung, who expressed an
interest in UFOs as early as 1946, when bright objects that looked
like fireballs (nicknamed “foofighters” after the French word feu
for “fire”) were seen by World War 11 pilots.
In his 1958 book Flying Saucers: A Modem
Myth of Things Seen in the Sky, Jung drew no conclusions about the
phenomenon, but he noted parallels between UFO sightings and
and religious events.
He called UFOs, “an Elijah who calls
down fire from heaven,” and felt the round shape of the saucers
indicated a mandala, an archetypal symbol of wholeness and unity
found in many mythologies.
Some ufologists have expanded on Jung's theories.
In The Omega
Project, Ring describes the stages of an abduction as,
“an almost archetypal journey of
initiation with its familiar invariant triadic sequence:
separation, ordeal, return.”
The individual, writes Ring,
“is suddenly taken away against his
will... He is, then, spirited away - an old-fashioned but
oddly apposite phrase - to an utterly unfamiliar world where he
is subjected to a kind of ritual inspection and testing that has
obvious, if sometimes rather distant, kinship to the
dismemberment motifs in traditional shamanic initiations. “
Ring also quotes Holger Kalweit's
description of the shaman's journey to heaven, where the Saajitani,
“torment him in a horrible fashion,
poking around his belly with knives, cutting whole chunks of
flesh off him, and throwing them about... The initiate acquires
his inner knowledge during this procedure and becomes conversant
with the rules of shamanic wisdom.”
Like Ring, writer Keith Thompson
- whose paper helped turn Mack around three years ago - finds
correlations between UFOs and myth, mystical experiences, shamanic
rituals, angelic visitations, folklore, and near-death experiences.
In his 1991 book Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic
Imagination, Thompson writes that it might not be the nature of
UFOs that changes, but rather the culture of those seeing them:
“Ezekiel saw a burning wheel. In the
Middle Ages, angels and fiery crosses and shields appeared in
the sky, and a legendary celestial region called Magonia was
said to be inhabited by extraordinary beings who traveled in
aerial 'cloud ships,' sometimes descending and abducting humans.
In nineteenth-century America, people saw airships resembling
zeppelins. Since 1947, we have seen flying saucers."
Thompson feels that such episodes are
central not only to myth but also to folklore.
His book notes the
work of Thomas Bullard, a folklorist at Indiana University who has
written extensively on UFOs and who sees a connection between UFO
abductions and fairy visitors in folktales.
“People were taken out of their
home,” Bullard says, “or out of their bed by a troupe a fairies
who would come down and take them to a subterranean kingdom.”
Because the fairy tradition is very widespread, says Bullard,
“you could probably find worldwide examples of diminutive
supernatural beings that kidnap people.”
Like Ring and Thompson, Bullard also
says shamanic initiations and journeys to the “other-world” offer “a
continuum of similarities” with abduction accounts.
But he points out that viewing an
abduction episode exclusively as a mythological or metaphorical
journey tends to ignore the more physical aspects of the
phenomenon-tree branches broken by UFOs, saucers caught on
videotape, and scars left on experiencers' bodies, to name a few.
“The people who focus on
similarities can make a convincing case,” he says, “but they're
really ignoring a lot.”
"I think the majority of the people
are seeing real things and experiencing real things,” says June
Steiner, “[But] even if this is not a real phenomenon, it has to
be worked with to help the person move through whatever it is
that created it.”
The myopic quest for the ultimate piece
of alien proof is an obsession that detracts from the effective
treatment of abductees, who, on the simplest level, are people in
Steiner is a refreshing rarity in the treatment of abductees - a
mental health professional who hasn't become stuck on proving the
aliens are real-life entities.
While mainstream psychiatry tends to
shun abductees - “the American Psychiatric Association doesn't have
a position on UFO abductions,” was an APA spokesperson's only
comment, “and I doubt we ever will” - Steiner feels the myopic quest
for the ultimate piece of alien proof or misfiring brain circuit
that might be causing a hallucination is an obsession that detracts
from the effective treatment of abductees, who, on the simplest
level, are people in pain.
What causes the crisis, Steiner says, is
The point is that the abduction victims are suffering,
and the visitations may be a way for them to work through their
trauma, whatever its cause.
“If you don't work through it,” she
says, “you've got a person who is very often stuck in negative
behavior and fear. if nothing else, you have to work with it as
an internal experience that has happened and that needs to
express something that has gone on.”
Because of a shortage of therapists like
Steiner, abductees tend to steer clear of mental health
“lest their case be forced into the
procrustean bed of the practitioners' diagnostic
preconceptions,” as Mack wrote last year in the International
In fact, Mack holds that denying
experiencers' stories can add to their trauma.
“[By denying the reality of
abductions] you are contributing to their affliction in the same
way that you're contributing to the holocaust survivor's
afflictions [by saying] the holocaust never existed.”
Mainstream mental health's rejection of
abduction claims is why most abductees come to people like Mack or
Steiner, often through word of mouth or a referral from a UFO group.
Alternative therapists are often willing
to work through the problem without questioning the validity of the
patients' claims, although health professionals and skeptics are
still hung up on their methods.
Recently hypnosis, the most common and
effective tool for delving into the memories of abductees, has
become a favorite whipping boy for debunkers.
“When you go under hypnosis, you're
in a suggestible state,” says Phil Klass. “It's almost a
master-slave relationship. The subject wants to please the
hypnotist. If the hypnotist believes in UFO abductions, then I
can guarantee you that you would also at least half believe that
you had been abducted.”
Hypnosis, according to Klass, can be
used as a form of brainwashing to plant stories in a victim's heads
and cover the real reasons for their trauma.
Many UFO researchers contradict Klass's claims.
“Whether the abduction is recalled
as a dream, or through hypnosis, or spontaneously,” Ken Ring
writes in The Omega Project, “the nature of the episode is
identical [emphasis in the original]... ; though UFO
investigators often use hypnotic techniques to elicit and
explore close encounters ... these procedures cannot be said to
create these encounters in the first place.
In short, there are
plenty of cases where persons spontaneously relate UFO
abductions in the same manner as those who have been
But Klass remains unmoved.
“The UFO abduction thing is a very,
very serious matter,” he says. “I would predict that the time
will come when there will be litigation and lawsuits filed
against psychotherapists like Dr. Mack.”
Klass believes that those claiming alien
interference in their lives are in need of good psychotherapy;
instead of helping their patients, therapists like Dr. Mack “embrace
this UFO abduction theory,” thus cementing it in the experiencer's
For his part, Mack insists that what scientists should be
questioning is not hypnosis but Western presumptions about the
nature of the universe.
He believes the abductions are based in
physical reality but that our language and worldview are inadequate
to explain them.
“You all know the [story of the]
Vermont farmer who gave up trying to give directions to the city
slicker by saying 'You just can't get there from here,'” he told
an audience last year at a conference on abductees held at - but
not sponsored by - MIT.
“We can't go where we want to go without
a shift in the way we see this phenomenon.”
The shift Mack envisions is decidedly
spiritual. It's an outlook that is controversial even in UFO
Theories that UFOs are here in response to a spiritual experience or
crisis date back to the origins of the modem UFO era in the late
1940s and early 1950s.
While at the time popular culture was
ambivalent about space invaders, with films depicting aliens as
either malevolent invaders in War of the Worlds or modern-day
Jeremiahs warning us about the A-bomb in The Day the Earth Stood
Still, many contactees claimed aliens were saviors capable of
curing disease, and harbingers of world peace.
The idea of UFOs as a form of deliverance wasn't restricted to UFO
groups and Hollywood, however.
Carl Jung viewed them as a unifying
symbol for a world literally divided by cold war fears.
“A psychic phenomenon of this kind
would... have a compensatory significance,” Jung wrote in a 1958
letter, “since it would be a spontaneous answer of the
unconscious to the present situation, i.e., to fears created by
an apparently insoluble political situation which might at any
moment lead to universal catastrophe.”
Nearly 30 years after Jung's book was
published, an abductee appeared who also interpreted the phenomenon
as a spiritual experience.
On Christmas Night, 1986, novelist
Whitley Strieber had an abduction experience in his cabin in New
York state. Later under hypnosis he recalled abductions dating back
to his childhood. In 1987, he wrote the book
Communion about his
encounters with “the visitors,” and it became a national best
In Communion, Strieber wrote that the visitations could be a form of
transformation (Transformation was the name of Strieber's sequel to
Communion) to a higher form of being:
“Ancient astronomers of India
believed that the Siddhas (human beings who have attained
perfection) revolved between the clouds and the moon, having
been transformed into a lighter, less material state.”
According to Strieber, aliens could be
agents that have appeared to help humankind evolve to a higher state
Strieber, however, had trouble with the UFO community from the
start. The first person he went to with his story was abduction
researcher Budd Hopkins, who insisted Strieber see a
psychotherapist. Many people in the UFO community doubted both
Strieber's story and his mental health and were turned off by
Strieber mystical interpretations of what many ufologists considered
literal invasions from extraterrestrials.
Strieber resented the UFO community's
rejection and felt that the abduction phenomenon was not being
addressed properly by ufologists, who avoided what he saw as the
phenomenon's spiritual and mystical aspects.
Strieber published an abductee-oriented newsletter before dropping
out of the UFO business two years ago.
“The so-called UFO-ologists,” he
wrote in his last issue, ironically sounding like Phil Klass,
“are probably the cruelest, nastiest and craziest people I have
ever encountered. Their interpretation of the visitor experience
is rubbish from beginning to end. The 'abduction reports' that
they generate are not real. They are the artifacts of hypnosis
and cultural conditioning.”
Strieber also indicated in “an oblique
manner” that the phenomenon might have more to do with the human
soul and its modem detachment from nature than with science fiction:
“There is a very simple reason that
we have made so little progress understanding UFOs and the
visitors. We are a world in the process of going blind: We are
blind to the existence of the soul, and thus to the ancient and
immensely conscious world from which it emerges.”
Strieber pointed out that the first UFOs
to be seen on a massive scale were sighted in 1947, just after World
War II, when “we began to live in daily terror of the atomic bomb”
and had taken another giant step, through our attempts to conquer
nature, of “going soul-blind.”
The implications of Strieber's argument are that alien visitations
could be considered the soul's way of reasserting itself because
greed and the devastations wreaked by our technology have driven us
from our spiritual selves. The visitors, Strieber wrote, might be as
integral to us as our hearts or minds - “at once separate from us,
yet a part of us,” our better natures calling for help during a time
of spiritual decrepitude.
Ken Ring has also described the alien encounters as a cry of
pain from the human soul, which is still living under the shadow of
fear spawned by the cold war.
“The alien experience may be the
collective experience of seeing your own future image in the
mirror,” Ring said in 1991 at a Parapsychological Services
Institute conference; “like the aliens, we are becoming grey and
sickly as a species. The message is that we are not supposed to
be living as we are.”
Strieber's and Ring's idea that the
visitors reflect ourselves is also a frequent theme heard from
Joe Noonan, a patient of Mack's - and
the only abductee who used his real name and agreed to be
photographed - unconsciously touches on Strieber's theory of
them-as-us when he describes his first experience with the aliens.
“[The alien] said, 'This doesn't
need to hurt. just look into my eyes.' And that was the most
incredible thing in the world because it was like looking into
my own soul. It was just vast.”
As a result of turning inward and seeing
themselves in the dark eyes of the visitors, abductees often report
profound spiritual changes.
“[Abductees] talked about having
experienced a great degree of spiritual growth,” says Ken Ring.
“Growth in compassion for others, greater self-understanding.
They also reported a number of unusual physical or physiological
changes, changes in metabolism, changes in neurological
functioning, changes in psychic sensitivities, all of which
seemed to constellate into a pattern that suggested that they
were functioning at a higher level of consciousness and with a
greater degree of spiritual awareness than had been the case
But many abductees who feel that they've
grown spiritually still find words lacking to describe the
Like Strieber, they can only approach the topic in an
“It's true, there's a spiritual
component to this" says Chris, one of Mack's patients.
“And everybody drops words around,
which is good - I mean, you have to communicate something. But
when you say spirituality, a lot of people immediately think
you've got angel wings on. To me, it's more like an awareness,
like a realness.”
He halts, flustered at the elusiveness of the
feelings he's grappling with, then apologizes for being
In fact, Chris is lucid on every other
topic; what he's trying to describe is, to many abductees,
“About a year ago, I started getting
a lot messages to go to church,” says Sarah, whose newfound
spirituality has taken a more traditional form.
“I actually heard thoughts in quiet
moments that I knew weren't mine. I ended up going. That first
Sunday, I was sitting there thinking, 'Why am I here?' All of a
sudden I heard in my right ear 'This is right.'
I mean, I don't
consider myself really religious. I don't buy into any one
religion. But I now have an appreciation for a spiritual place.
I think that [the aliens] are part of a greater spirit world. I
think were probably part of it too, but were on a much lesser
“I think that they're helping us evolve,” offers Joe Noonan. “I
think they see we've reached the edges of the petri dish in our
growth - not that we're their experiment, but they have enough
objectivity to see what were kidding ourselves about. We've run
out of time, and they're stepping up their involvement”
The belief that alien visitors represent
the next step of human evolution - that the aliens are, as Whitley
Strieber once put it, like butterflies returning to prevent the
caterpillars from denuding the trees - is popular among some
abductees, and is closely tied in with their feelings of
Ken Ring examines the connection in The
Omega Project, calling the alien presence a possible Mind at Large
“that is conscious, purposive, intelligent [and] may intervene in
earthly affairs in an effort to help bring about certain effects”
- effects that to many of Mack's patients are strongly
Ring speculates that abductions may also be a warning about what's
in store for us.
“On the cover of a recent cover of
Life magazine there was a picture of an extremely emaciated
black child in Somalia with huge, penetrating black eyes" he
“If you made an overlay of that picture on top of one of
the standard depictions of UFO entities, the match would be
unmistakable. There is something symbolic in these images, that
perhaps if we do not take care of our planet and one another and
learn to live in harmony, that perhaps this is the kind of
person we are going to be producing.”
To Mack, the ecological concerns of
abductees are themselves a form of spirituality.
He notes that a spiritual awakening is
often painful - as an example he cites Zen masters who use a paddle
to wake up students - which is why abductees are shown visions of
“The earth is the highest creation
of the Divinity,” Mack says, “and the destruction of it is the
highest crime that can be committed. The creation of a
harmonious relationship is a spiritual task”
But to the nuts and bolts Ufologists,
talk of the visitors as ecological saviors is nonsense.
“[Abductions] are not benign in any
way, shape, or form,” insists David Jacobs, a history professor
at Temple University.
Jacobs, the author of
Firsthand Accounts of UFO Abductions, has hypnotized over 75
abductees. He sees an abduction as a “heavily traumatic situation”
that “calls for serious thought”
The visitors, he concludes, are
not here to help us in any way.
“We don't see benevolence, we don' t
see malevolence" he says. “What we see is a dispassionate
clinical program fulfilling an agenda of their own that has very
little to do with us except to use our bodies for their own
Jacobs claims that the visions of
nuclear and ecological disaster are the aliens way of testing our
emotions, like scientists manipulating lab rats.
He notes that the
small percentage of abductees who put a spiritual spin on the
experience are all patients of Mack's, implying that Mack - and not
the aliens - is responsible for the spiritual interpretations and
ecological awareness of his patients.
Mack admits that may be partially true.
“There is a kind of relationship
between a therapist and patient where you're co-creating,” he
says. “But I've never pointed them in any one direction.”
To him, abductions serve as “a kind of
cosmic correction” that will work to push us up another rung on the
"The UFO is an enigmatic rent in the
fabric of the 20th century,” Erik Davis concluded in his
essay, “and all our explanations are signals shot into the
heavens - they either fade into the stellar maw or bounce back,
echoes of our own descriptions.”
But while the aliens remain an enigma,
skeptics and believers may be inching toward a new science, or at
least toward a consensus regarding the terms of the debate.
In an issue of Parade magazine published in March ('93), astronomer
and UFO skeptic
Carl Sagan - who rejected the phenomenon when Mack
asked him about it in the 1960s - wrote an article about abductions.
The piece was remarkable because it was
the first time a hard-line skeptic acknowledged the reality of the
terror that abductees feel and admitted there might be more to the
phenomenon than lies and fantasy-prone personalities, even if the
answer turns out to be all too human.
“If indeed the bulk of alien
abduction accounts are really about hallucinations,” Sagan
wrote, “don't we have before us a matter of supreme importance -
touching on... the fashioning of our beliefs and perhaps even
the origins of our religions? There is genuine scientific paydirt in UFO and alien abductions,” he concluded.
While Sagan relegates the phenomenon to
“distinctly terrestrial origins,” his theories are ironically
similar to those expressed by Whitley Strieber in the final issue of
his Communion newsletter, published in the spring of 1991.
“When a person who yearns inwardly
for change reaches the psychological breaking point,” Strieber
wrote, “the visitors may come in through the cracks in that
person's wall of belief. There are things at large in the night
of the soul; the visitors live there... [they are] the
reflection of my own soul.”
After reading Strieber's essay, I called
Joe Noonan and asked him about Strieber's ideas of the aliens as a
reflection - a mirror, Ken Ring might say, of us, the future child.
“Boy, I can really identify with
that,” Noonan said. “When I came face to face with one of them
for the first time, it was like me meeting me.”